As a mental health professional, Cara had a good understanding of the ways in which someone’s mental health can be affected. But what she wasn't prepared for was the impact her brain injury would have on her own mental health.
Cara, who’s in her 30s, said: “The feeling of being so alone, isolated, the anxiety that it would all happen again, the loss of independence, and the difficulty in processing the trauma of what had happened to me – it was a lot to try and come to terms with.
I was young, healthy, I had a good job, a child, how could this happen to ME? We all know in theory that we're not immortal, but actually realising this and being this close to severe disability or death gives you an indescribable sense of vulnerability.
In March 2020, Cara’s world turned upside down when an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) haemorrhaged out of the blue.
Recalling what happened, she said: “I couldn't feel my hand and my arm, I couldn't speak, I was alone at home with my toddler and felt terrified.”
Cara was taken to A&E and told the life-changing news that she’d had a brain haemorrhage. She made the difficult decision to go ahead with surgery (a craniotomy) to remove the AVM.
“On 1st April (no April fool!) I went in for 10 hours of surgery, totally alone due to COVID-19,” she said. “I did what I needed to do...waited, hair shaved, catheters, my head drilled, sliced and bandaged, intensive care, scans, sleepless nights, drugs, and more waiting.
“The physical recovery was an absolute roller coaster, full of focal seizures, trips back and forth to hospital. But after six or so weeks you're all recovered and back to 'normal', right?”
She said: “Post-surgery I had focal seizures every day for two weeks. I couldn't speak even though I knew the words I wanted to say, I struggled to write and text as I couldn't use my right arm or hand properly due to numbness. I felt very low and isolated at times.
Initially I couldn't brush my hair or my teeth properly, I couldn't write or speak without stumbling over words. It meant that I couldn't properly look after my toddler or be the mother I wanted to be for her.
Cara has made improvements over time, but the psychological effects of her injury still take their toll.
She said: “The most difficult thing of all has been the psychological impact of processing the events that happened to me – it’s left me with feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.
“But despite all of this, my brain injury has given me a great appreciation for life, for living. I notice the birds, the trees, the ants, the sunshine on my face. It has been, and continues to be, the biggest roller coaster of my life, but I am determined for this experience to shape my life for the better.
I am now back to work and hope that continues. I want to use my experience to support and inspire others where possible and grab every opportunity I can take to live my life.
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